As we have now crossed the halfway stage of the winter tourism season, it is looking increasingly doubtful that any predictions of a strong performance in this sector will become a reality. The January long stay visitor arrivals figures are especially alarming. An overall fall of 8.2 per cent across all markets, but significantly of concern are the numbers from Canada, which saw a 18.4 per cent fall when compared with the same month in 2012. The USA was down 11.1 per cent, the UK down 2.4 per cent and Trinidad down a staggering 40.6 per cent.
Whoever, assumes the office of Government later this week will finally have to take a long and hard look at current marketing strategies, and even if this is deemed an imperative, there is very little likelihood that any measures implemented at this late stage will make an iota of difference before April 15. So the next challenge is the eight long softer summer months.
After five years in power the outgoing administration had seemingly abandoned any attempt to fulfil their previously stated 2008 manifesto objective, to restructure the Barbados Tourism Authority. This despite an overwhelming mandate to effect change, yet surprisingly, its popped up again in the 2013 manifesto.
According to its own website [BTA], the declared mission statement of the agency is; ‘The Barbados Tourism Authority’s functions are to promote, assist and facilitate the efficient development of tourism; to design and implement suitable marketing strategies for the effective promotion of the tourism industry’. I think the question has to be asked, are these goals being successfully achieved in the most cost-effective and productive ways? Clearly, there are challenges, but every other regional destination is also experiencing the same difficulties.
Whoever is elected this Thursday will quickly have to formulate policies to redress the loss of over 100,000 long stay visitors over the last five years and nearly that number of cruise ship passengers in a single year, 2012. And the fact, that these decisions will have to be made as we enter the shoulder season, makes this task even more daunting. My only hope is that any new or returning administration will realise that while it may garner a few votes, putting friends and cronies into critical policy making positions without the necessary skills and knowledge is not in the national interest.
What has honestly surprised me leading up to the election is the lack of discussion and proffering of constructive solutions to our current crisis in tourism. It almost appears that those who have recently left power and those aspiring to achieve it, simply don’t have any new ideas or even where to turn, to find them.
We entered 2013 without any coherent national marketing plan and this must be a great source of concern for the private sector. With dramatically eroded viability, I doubt the majority of tourism partners have the means available to assume the responsibly of promoting both their own business and the destination.
Much emphasis has been placed on the role of hoteliers and that the industry is a lot more than about them. Absolutely right, but at the end of day, they have almost always made the single largest investment and have the most to lose, if the destination suffers.